Q&A: Kawaii Suga, on how girls in rope freed her

An original by Suga.

An original by Suga.

 

After experiencing crippling panic attacks, Chicago artist Kawaii Suga turned to her art for relief. The women in bondage that she created in her mind, then transferred to paper, freed her. When she’s not drawing or painting, Suga is busy being a mother to her two daughters. And motherhood always comes first. Learn more about Chicago’s beloved Suga in our exclusive interview below.

When did you start drawing?
I’ve always been drawing but this style I developed in my teenage years. A lot of artists I look up to drew nudity and I didn’t see anything weird with it. I saw nudity in art as something normal. None of my friends growing up were into art so it was lonely. But four years ago, I started meeting people in the community.

Have your kids seen your art?
My older child has grown up seeing me paint, but she hasn’t seen all my art. She grew up seeing me draw and paint and started doing the same. She says she wants to be an artist when she grows up. I’m hoping to teach her, and take what I’ve been learning and give her the knowledge.

Why do you think it’s important for women to depict women in their art?
Yes, it is important because we know ourselves best. Men I look up to, who are masters of their craft, are more than capable of painting beautiful women, but it will never have the same feel because it's seen from their eyes. We on the other hand, are able to paint ourselves from the inside out.



 
An original by Suga.

An original by Suga.

 

What has shaped you as a woman?
Motherhood for sure. I grew up with only brothers and my mom was very religious, so she didn’t talk about things like sex. I would venture into things I liked, such as music, fashion, books. And I liked reading about different women and how they lived their lives. I would take what I thought was cool, like women who were against what was normal in their time, being obedient, being submissive. Even women in hip-hop, their music was so loud. During the time, women weren’t really respected so they were using fashion and raunchy lyrics. It definitely shaped me. It had some sort of confidence I was drawn to.

Do you get backlash for your art?
Rarely. But the people that do are mostly older women. They find it scary for some reason. And I really like drawing women in bondage because it has a sentimental value to me. A symbolism that I relate to my anxiety, but other women see it as scary or abusive. I don’t think my art is for everyone. And I think whatever people think about it reflects on them.

Tell me more about the symbolism.
I started getting anxiety about four years ago with panic attacks. I had no idea what was going on so I had to make some changes. Focusing on my art was one of them. Drawing the girls in rope was very soothing, it was like meditation. The bondage itself symbolizes self-power. You could choose to be in certain situations, and you could choose to free yourself from them. Women were being tied up to certain roles, and I wanted to show people that it wasn’t okay. On the other hand, bondage is a really beautiful process because of the affection that goes into it. I adore affection.

 
Suga in bondage.

Suga in bondage.

 

How do you receive negative criticism?
People that don’t bother to talk to me or see things from my perspective or my intentions, to me they’re nobody. My art never comes from bad intentions. If you don’t like it, I don’t care. I do want my work to start conversations. I love talking to people, I love learning what they’re thinking.

Why is mentorship important?
When I was a teenager, older artists refused to answer some questions. It feels bad. I never want to be that way. If anyone asks me a question I’m more than willing to answer. Mentorship also helps the city flourish. It builds community and connections.

What’s the biggest misconception about your art?
Everyone thinks the girls in my little world are me, because of their appearance. However they're not, they're just parts of me. I think it's because of the black hair. Black long hair is symbolic to me. It's a representation of beauty and power, so I will continue to draw women with long black hair similar to mine. I have more repetitive motif's to my work, and I will continue to add more as that little world expands. Hair is just one of them.

 
An original by Suga.

An original by Suga.

 

Follow Suga on Instagram @kawaii.suga. If you’re in Chicago, catch her at the new Vault Gallerie grand opening on June 7, featuring a sticker show she curated. (For more on Vault Gallerie, read our interview with owner Delilah Martinez here.)

 
 

Author

gosia circle.jpg

Gosia Labno is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She holds a B.S. in Media and Cinema Studies and an M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies. She is working on a collection of short stories chronicling the lives of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Follow.